How to Get Ahead by Talking a Big Game

woman bragging about success

When someone compliments you, is your automatic response anything like mine? “Really? I haven’t slept in days. It must be the lighting in here!” Or, when you’ve been patted on the back for a job well done, do you allow your team to take credit for what you personally did? 

It’s not unusual. According to one University of New Mexico study, women are three times more likely to underestimate what others think of them. We also have a harder time bragging about our achievements, often because we think “doing all the right things” on the job should suffice to gain us recognition we deserve, according to a recent Catalyst report. Yet over and over, research shows that career advancement hinges on tooting our own horn

Bottom line: We often underestimate, or underplay, our achievements. And it does us no good. Those who (subtly) boast the most are the ones who get promotions. So, how to toot your horn without turning people off? Here’s how to nail the humblebrag.

Say It Loud

Say It Loud

When someone compliments you, is your automatic response anything like mine? “Really? I haven’t slept in days. It must be the lighting in here!” Or, when you’ve been patted on the back for a job well done, do you allow your team to take credit for what you personally did? 

It’s not unusual. According to one University of New Mexico study, women are three times more likely to underestimate what others think of them. We also have a harder time bragging about our achievements, often because we think “doing all the right things” on the job should suffice to gain us recognition we deserve, according to a recent Catalyst report. Yet over and over, research shows that career advancement hinges on tooting our own horn

Bottom line: We often underestimate, or underplay, our achievements. And it does us no good. Those who (subtly) boast the most are the ones who get promotions. So, how to toot your horn without turning people off? Here’s how to nail the humblebrag.

Pipe Up Around Men

Pipe Up Around Men

New research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows that women tend to undervalue their contributions around male, not female, coworkers: “Women gave more credit to their male teammates and took less themselves unless their role in bringing about the performance outcome was irrefutably clear.” In a series of four different studies of 34 men and 36 women, researchers learned that the women paired with men felt the men were better performers, even if they did the identical tasks.

Especially when working on a group project with the opposite sex, be aware of how you are personally contributing to the task at hand. Praise yourself for what you brought to the table that gave the group success, and then make sure your superiors know your specific role. Feel like this kind of brazen self-promotion is beyond your comfort zone? Consider crafting your summary in an email that highlights what each of your colleagues brought to the table too.

Be Direct

Be Direct

You make a better impression when you’re direct about your accomplishments. In a popular study by Israeli researchers published in Social Influence, scientists found that those who beat around the bush with bragging were not just less successful, they were also “perceived as manipulative and unsociable.” But when you’re talking about yourself, be careful not to namedrop. It’s perceived as indirect and wishy-washy. When study authors had people hear someone brag about knowing tennis great Roger Federer, they were actually perceived as less sporty. Ouch.

Boast Like a Bro

Boast Like a Bro

When Northwestern University academics looked at why men get leadership roles more often than women, they found it wasn’t about competency. Rather, it was their bluster. “Men’s overconfidence is the driving force behind the observed prevalence of male representation,” wrote study authors in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization. The authors found that men not only bragged — and even exaggerated — their accomplishments more often than women, they were rewarded with promotions for it.

However, don’t forget that there’s a fine line between promoting yourself and showboating. So when you speak up about yourself, be sure to use specific details that are based on numbers, for example, or grades, so your accomplishments are not mistaken for embellishments.

Tweet About Your Accomplishments

Tweet About Your Accomplishments

Did you know that talking about ourselves actually revs the same regions of the brain as money, arousal and food, reported Harvard University neuroscientists in a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Using MRI scanners to track neurological blood flow, subjects’ brains lit up when asked to share details about themselves, called “self-disclosure.” Here’s how to use bragging as a real instant ego-booster: If you go online, you can get a real quick pick me up. Blurt about your recent accolades in a tweet or status update. It’s almost as good as ringing up your BFF.

Better Yet, Let Others Do It For You

Better Yet, Let Others Do It For You

A University of Manchester study in Social Psychology Quarterly looked closely at the “interactional organization of self-praise.” Their findings: Compliments from a third party make a really good impression. Of course, the only way others will talk about you is if you let them in on your amazing self, so keep up the swagger. Interestingly, you don’t have to be ultra-outgoing either to have the advantage. A recent study found that while extroverts got high marks originally on the job, it was the ones who were perceived at first to be more anxious that actually performed best.

Above All Else, Brag On

Above All Else, Brag On

It appears that the fear of being too pushy is at the root of what holds women back from self-promotion, says recent Psychology of Women Quarterly research. Yet even though most of the subjects claimed they were afraid of backlash if they came on too strong when trying to get ahead in their careers, it rarely caused resentment from their peers found lead author Corinne Moss-Racusin.

Remember, it’s just a stereotype that being modest is more advantageous. One tip: If you’re afraid of sounding too brash, try thinking about yourself in the third person before you speak. It just may be easier to talk about your strengths when you pretend it is your friends or teachers talking about you.  Parrot what they’d say in your head before you start to crow.

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